All about cornbread: Paraguayan sopa paraguaya

Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, Miranda and some colleagues staged their own Come Dine With Me. Miranda can’t actually remember how or why she chose her main course contribution, but it was jambalaya with jalapeno cornbread. 

This was the first time either of us had eaten cornbread, but the jambalaya/cornbread combo is one we’ve revisited many times since. We’ve also tried various other forms of cornbread, including:
– a version made by a friend in a separate Come Dine With Me experiment, in an homage to southern cuisine and Fried Green Tomatoes, that was served with a delicious honey butter
– a ‘healthier’ recipe by James Wong that didn’t include any sugar or anywhere near as much butter (but was still nice)
– a Texan BBQ version that Ash had at a class at the London Barbecue School that not only contained butter but also had about 100g butter melted all over the top of it (not a healthy version, then)

All had their merits and all confirmed our realisation that we are big fans of cornbread, so when we learned that the national dish of Paraguay is sopa paraguaya, or Paraguayan cornbread (even though the name translates to Paraguayan soup!), we were excited to try yet another version.

Word has it that the dish is called ‘Paraguayan soup’ because the country’s first president favoured a particular white soup made of milk, cheese, egg and cornflour, but one day his cook put too much cornflour in it and accidentally made bread instead of soup. She purportedly presented it as ‘solid soup’, the president loved it and thus sopa paraguaya was invented.

Sopa paraguaya

Ingredients
6 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped (we used one white and one red because that’s what we had)
2 cups whole milk
2 cups cornmeal
2 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (this was roughly 250g)
Salt and pepper, to taste (we omitted the salt, as we always do, to make it more toddler-friendly)
3 eggs, separated

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a loaf tin with 1 tbsp butter.
2. In a large saucepan, melt 2 tbsp butter over a low heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft (about 7 minutes).
3. Add the milk to the pan and allow to heat without boiling. Slowly add the cornmeal, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly until smooth (we used a whisk).
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, remaining butter, egg yolks and seasoning.
5. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites to the cornmeal mixture until incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre turns out clean. 
7. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning onto a board and slicing. 
Makes 1 loaf

This is what it looks like when you grease a loaf tin with 1 tbsp of butter. :O
SO. MUCH. CHEESE.

Well, this certainly wasn’t a healthy version of cornbread! The amount of cheese was hilarious. Before folding in the egg whites, the batter was the consistency of a great big ball of stringy melted cheese. Delicious, but not easy to work with! We persevered, though, and managed to evenly disperse the egg whites and subsequently created a lovely golden brown loaf of cornbread that was enjoyed by all three of us.

However, despite the massive quantity of cheese, it didn’t actually taste all that cheesy – probably because mozzarella doesn’t really taste of anything. The pervading flavour was onion. Surprisingly, this didn’t bother Baby Mash, who usually rejects onion in all forms, but Miranda and Ash thought it was a little overpowering: Ash commented that it tasted a bit like a cheese and onion pasty! If we were to make it again, we’d probably only use one onion instead of two.

We read that Paraguayans would typically serve this as a side to stews, so we had ours with a sausage casserole. We also grilled it for lunch the following day and ate it with poached eggs and tomatoes, which also worked.

Come and eat with us: Bolivian pisara

Baby Mash has a book called Come and eat with us! which explains some of the traditional meals and customs from a range of different countries. When we first got it we commented that we should use it as inspiration for this project when we got up to a country featured in the book. We had our first opportunity with Bolivia.

The book tells us that in Bolivia, ‘everybody helps pick quinoa, a tiny golden-coloured grain. It is cooked with honey to make pisara. Delicious!’ The actual national dish of Bolivia is salteñas, which are very faffy-looking empanadas that, frankly, were too faffy-looking for our toddler-filled life. ‘Delicious’ pisara was therefore a more appealing option. The few recipes that we found (including the one we used from The Fair Trade Cook Book suggested that it is traditionally eaten as a dessert, but we decided to make it for breakfast instead. Continue reading

Superfood ice cream: Peruvian alfajores con helada de lucuma

We’ve watched a lot of cooking shows on TV in our time and it’s now fairly rare that we come across an ingredient that we’ve never heard of. On the last season of Australian My Kitchen Rules, however, contestants Andy and Ruby (Peruvian besties who were desperate to put Peruvian food on the proverbial map) made lucuma ice cream. None of the other contestants knew what lucuma was, and neither did we, but they raved about the delicious caramel flavour of the ice cream and our curiosity was piqued.

For anyone else wondering, lucuma is a fruit native to South America, and it is surprisingly good for you – so much so that it’s been labelled a ‘superfood’. It’s high in beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium and protein – not to mention its anti-aging properties and the fact that it promotes cardiovascular health! We could have all that AND ice cream at the same time? We were sold. Continue reading

Potato puffs reborn: Ecuadorian llapingachos and accompaniments

Miranda’s mum is famous/infamous for her ‘potato puffs’. Here is the recipe:

IMG_0007

After over 30 years of thinking they were Mum’s invention, research for this blog led to the revelation that they actually started with her own mother (Nana), who found the recipe on the side of a box of Cornflakes when Mum was a child (word has it that they are ‘definitely better with Cornflake crumbs and not the humble bread crumb’). They were a staple throughout the childhoods of both Miranda and her mother, and are still a favourite of Miranda’s mum today, which must be close to 50 years after the recipe was first discovered by Nana. However, Miranda wasn’t a fan of mashed potato as a child so they weren’t a favourite with her, despite the fact that they regularly appeared on the family menu.

Miranda moved out of home over 13 years ago, and thought her potato puff days were behind her. Imagine our surprise when, whilst looking into traditional Ecuadorean cuisine, we happened upon llapingachos. Apparently the Ecuadoreans like potato puffs too. Llapingachos are cheese-stuffed potato patties, fried and served with a variety of accompaniments. They’re not the official national dish of Ecuador (although there seems to be some debate over what that is – ceviche and fish stew are both possibilities), but in honour of Miranda’s culinary heritage, we had to make them. We decided to follow a recipe from Laylita’s Recipes as it looked authentically Ecuadorean. You can read more about the dish, and some of her tips and tricks, if you follow the link. Continue reading

Weekend carnival: Brazilian steak, potato salad, pé de moleque and panquecas de queijo

The national dish of Brazil is feijoada, which is a pork and black bean stew, but aside from the fact that we didn’t really fancy playing with pig’s snouts, tails and trotters, we had other reasons for choosing other recipes this time. And yes, that’s recipes, plural – we had a full Brazilian fiesta over a weekend. Continue reading

Lockdown curry: French Guianese poulet colombo

It’s a funny old time, isn’t it? We’ve now been in lockdown for nine weeks and staying at home all day has become our ‘new normal’. Words like lockdown, COVID, key worker, furlough and R number are used frequently, when before they were meaningless. And most of our meals are invented around what we (and the supermarkets) have in stock, rather than planned in advance.

We’ve been intending to make French Guianese poulet colombo since before lockdown, but we wanted to make it with chicken thighs, and as soon as the restrictions were put in place, they were hard to come by. Our butcher closed his doors and we don’t tend to buy supermarket meat. So much time had passed that we thought we should just make a vegetarian version, but then we found another local butcher who was doing deliveries, so we could get hold of our chicken thighs and make the dish as it’s meant to be made (at least, how it’s meant to be made according to Travel by Stove). Saying that, we did still make a couple of substitutes, as detailed below. Continue reading

Poultryman’s pie: Suriname pom

Right, so, the thing is, we made this on 1 March and it’s now 5 May. We’ve been procrastinating actually writing this, but now we want to make the dish for the next country (French Guiana) so we need to do this first. The truth is that we barely remember making it, so we hope that the recipe below (inspired by Arousing Appetites) is a relatively accurate account of what we did, but we can’t fully guarantee it.

As for the title of this blog, well, this dish is kind of like shepherd’s pie, in that it’s a meat stew with a potato topping, but it’s with chicken instead of lamb, and a chicken farmer is called a poultryman, so, yeah. The Surinamese version would have used pomtajer instead of potato. We’d never even heard of pomtajer before and certainly couldn’t source any, so potato it had to be. Taro would also be an acceptable substitute. And as ever, we omitted the salt to make it baby-friendly. There was 2 tsp in the stew and 1 tsp in the topping in the recipe. Continue reading

Cooking with cassareep: Guyanese pepperpot

Every day’s a school day, especially when you’re cooking dishes from other countries. Ever heard of cassareep? We hadn’t either, until we learnt that an authentic pepperpot (the national dish of Guyana) can’t be made without it, and that it is a syrup made from cassava.

Thinking we had no chance of finding this niche Guyanese ingredient in England, we started investigating what we could use as a substitute, but then Miranda happened to walk past a Caribbean grocery store and ventured inside to see whether they had any. It took a little while to locate as she didn’t know what she was looking for, but then she found some, and once again we were thankful that we live in such a multicultural town. Continue reading

Quick and easy: Aruban pan bati

Two things we knew about Aruba before last week:
– It’s mentioned in ‘Kokomo’ by The Beach Boys (which, word of warning, really gets stuck in your head)
– It’s where Rachel and Barry were supposed to go on their honeymoon on Friends (‘talk about your… big lizards.’)

Neither of those things has anything to do with food, though, so we turned to Google, where we learnt that there’s not really a distinct Aruban national dish. Fish creole came up, but with no consensus on what that actually is, as did keshi yena, which we’ve already made for Netherlands Antilles… of which Aruba is a territory, so maybe we didn’t need to make an Aruban dish after all. Hmmm. Continue reading